Elements and Descriptors

Elements of PIP
DLA is currently made up of lower, middle and higher rate care components and middle and higher rate mobility components. These become Daily Living and Moving Around elements under PIP. One of the main changes is the absence of an equivalent lower rate care component under PIP. This change is likely to hit people with mental health and learning disabilities, along with some partially sighted people.

I am aware that a number of organisations initially expressed concern about how many people with hearing loss might lose out as a result. Thankfully it appears that some improvements have been made to previous drafts of the regulations, as reflected in this statement by the deaf-blind charity Sense:

The criteria that will be used to assess people for PIP show some improvements from previous drafts. Importantly individuals can now ‘score points’ for both hearing and visual impairments, rather than one or the other. This is an area that Sense has campaigned hard on. People will be assessed on their abilities to speak, hear and understand as well as their ability to read and understand signs, symbols and words.

To determine whether a person is eligible for a particular component of PIP, and at what rate, the assessment will look at their ability to undertake certain activities. The regulations issued for consultation list 12 different activities – 10 to assess people the Daily Living element of PIP and 2 for the Moving Around element. For each activity, there are a number of “descriptors”, each with an associated points score. If several descriptors within an activity could apply, the appropriate choice would be the one which applied for the greatest proportion of the time.

The final regulations – including the descriptors – were published on 13 December. There have been some improvements following the initial drafts, but many concerns remain – some of which are detailed below. The then Minister for Disabled People Esther McVey, set out these changes in a statement and additional details are available on the DWP website.

Moving Around descriptors
The design of the getting around descriptors mean that those with mobility issues are likely to lose out. Currently being unable to walk for over 50 meters would qualify claimants for the enhanced mobility component of DLA. Under PIP only claimants unable to walk for more than 20 meters will qualify. This reduced distance was introduced after consultation closed and was a big change from the original draft. The Government has said that there will be no further consutltation and they intend to put this lower distance into the final regulations. This is likely to mean that 212,000 fewer people will be entitled to support from the Motability scheme, which will in turn affect people’s ability to go to work and live independently.

On 17 June 2013 the Government announced that they would consult on reintroducing the 50 meter rule. While this is a welcome development, it’s very disappointing that Ministers weren’t able to get this issue sorted before now, as we’ll have to await the outcome of this consultation before we can be sure what’s happening, and new claimants are currently being assessed on the basis of the 20 meter rule now. The lack of consultation on the initial switch from 20 to 50 meters was the subject of a judicial review in July 2014.

There is also an issue around what counts as a ‘familiar journey’ which could lead to many people only qualifying for the lower rate.  One particular example someone gave at a meeting was of what happens to someone who is blind when there are unexpected changes to street layout (which may be due to an emergency so no warning would be given) or public transport stops running (again perhaps because of bad weather).

I am also concerned that if people take steps to ‘adapt’ to their condition, they might be deemed to require less financial assistance. I do not believe the DWP has given sufficient reassurance on this point.

The Government also claimed that reassessments could be used to ensure that people were given all the help they could get. In my view an assessment process designed to determine eligibility for a benefit is not well placed to signpost people to other help. There are very few references to this in the recent regulations so we must assume this has justification has now been dropped.

Safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period
The final draft regulations did not include any reference to whether a claimant could carry out an activity ‘safely, reliably, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period’. Ministers initially wanted to put this qualification in accompanying guidance as opposed to actual legal regulations. Fortunately they announced a change of heart on 31 January 2013. This will now be included in regulations. This will help a lot of people who can sometimes manage to do things – such as ‘move 50 metres’ – but at other times are exhausted part way and have to stop. This phrase will apply to all activities, not just mobility.